Koshi Tappu residents protest decision to turn their homesteads into leasehold forestThe proposed area is home to 500 families, mostly flood and landslide victims, squatters and impoverished households.
The residents of Koshi Tappu in Ward No. 3 of Belaka Municipality vandalised the municipal office on Wednesday to protest the government decision to turn 176.23 hectares of land in the area into a leasehold forest.
According to the District Police Office in Udayapur, around 300 local residents gathered outside the office to discuss the issue with the authorities.
“There were disagreements and heated arguments. The local people entered the office premises and began rioting and vandalism,” said Bed Prasad Gautam, deputy superintendent of police in Udayapur.
“The crowd was getting unruly so security personnel had to fire eight rounds of bullets into the air and lob six rounds of tear gas canisters to get the situation under control,” he said.
As per the Cabinet decision of May 20, the government has decided to turn a chunk of land in the Koshi Tappu area into a leasehold forest.
The proposed leasehold forest area is home to around 500 families, mostly flood and landslide victims, landless squatters and impoverished households who have been living in the area for decades.
Local residents blame the government authorities for trying to displace them from their settlements to form a leasehold forest.
“The authorities plan to leave us with no home. Hundreds of families who live here are at risk of being displaced,” said Prakash Budhathoki, a resident of Ward No. 3 in Belaka Municipality.
The land was provided on lease to two private companies for the operation of tourism activities for the next 30 years.
Baraha Herbal and Agro Pvt Ltd in Sunsari and Safeway Technology in Lalitpur won the lease to operate eco-tourism industries in the proposed area.
According to Jageshwor Sah, assistant forest officer of the Division Forest Office in Udayapur, the decision came about since both Belaka Municipal Office and the office of Ward No. 3 recommended the government to form a leasehold forest in Koshi Tappu.
“The municipality chose the land as it covers public land along with riverbank areas,” said Sah.
Durga Kumar Thapa, mayor of the municipality, informed that the land at the southern border of the district in wards 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 have not been recommended for lease.
“Those living in the southern border will not have to move. They will receive land ownership certificates soon,” said Thapa. However, the municipality does not have relocation plans for those who will be affected by the government’s decision yet, he said.
Leasehold forestry was introduced under the Forest Act 1993 and subsequent regulation 1993. “The main aim of the programme is to stop forest degradation and address poorer sections of the society by enhancing livelihood options,” said Sah.